When horse-riding for beginners it’s helpful to know that horses are unpredictable animals and even the most gentle ones can spook! This is often at the most innocent of things like a plastic bag blowing in the road, or a bird flying out of a hedge. So it pays to follow a few safety rules. You should also try to get to know horses and their foibles as well as you can so that you can predict what might startle them and stop accidents from happening. Here are our top six safety tips.
1. Wear the right gear
When horse riding for beginners, always wear an approved riding hat that conforms to current safety standards PAS 015 with BSI kitemark or BS EN 1384. Keep it on while you’re riding or leading a horse, and make sure that it’s been fitted correctly by an approved fitter.
Wear boots when you’re riding or around your horse, so your toes don’t get squashed by a stray hoof and your feet don’t go through the stirrups when you’re on board.
Wear gloves when you lead, groom and ride your horse. These will stop you getting any blisters or burns and you’ll have a better grip of the lead rope or reins.
2. Learn to ride with a qualified instructor
Choose a riding school that’s been approved by either the British Horse Society (BHS) or the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS). And check that your particular instructor has BHS or Pony Club qualifications. These start at BHSPTC and progress through BHSAI, BHSII, BHSI to FBHS.
3. Treat the horse with respect
Move slowly and calmly around horses. Speak to the horse before you approach so he/she knows you’re there and doesn’t get startled.
Always lead a bridled horse with the reins pulled over his/her head. Never wrap the reins around your hand.
Run the stirrup irons up the stirrup leathers on your saddle – the instructor can show you how to do this. It stops the stirrups getting caught on a fence or the stable door.
Squat if you are doing things around the horse’s feet – don’t kneel. That way you can quickly jump out of the way if your horse gets startled.
4. Ride a suitable horse for your skill level
It might seem exciting to ride a lively looking horse, but wait until you are able to walk, trot and canter confidently before you ask to ride a livelier looking horse or pony. Ride a horse you don’t know in an enclosed and familiar space to get to know it first.
And remember, even the most gentle horse can spook if startled, so be aware of your surroundings at all times.
If you’re in a group of horses, or in a group lesson, maintain space between you and the next horse, in case the horse in front of you spooks or kicks out.
5. Mount and dismount with care
Have someone hold the horse if possible when you are getting on. Mounting and dismounting involve having one leg in the air, so you’re more vulnerable. Use a mounting block if you can, as this reduces the pull on the left-hand side of the saddle, compared to when you get on from the ground. It also means you can hop on a lot quicker and be in a safe position to control the horse.
6. Tie the horse up when you’re handling it
If you need to tie your horse up, use a headcollar and rope. Never tie a horse up by the reins as leather reins don’t break easily and it can cause injury to the horse. Use a quick-release knot and tie to a loop of string or twine, attached to the metal tip-up ring that will break if the horse runs backwards in panic.
Always tie your horse up if you’re mucking out, grooming or tacking up. It means you can move quietly and confidently around the horse without the worry of getting trapped in a corner.
Watch the horse's ears for clues about its moods. Ears forward mean it’s happy and interested in what’s going on. Ears back mean it’s annoyed and might kick out or bite.
Follow these safety tips and use your common sense and you’ll enjoy your time at the stables all the more.